[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 6, Episode 17 of This Is Us, “The Train.”]
Perhaps the most tear-inducing episode of the season so far, the spectacle brings together several callbacks, and characters, and reveals pieces of the Pearson family’s future lives that up until now have merely been teased. Beware of major spoilers ahead as we break down all of the key details from the emotional episode, below.
The Real-World Goodbye
Much of the episode is split into two realities, the one that the Pearson family is experiencing and the other that Rebecca is experiencing as she nears death. In the real world, Rebecca’s nurse notes her declining condition just as the rest of the group is gathering in the living room and kitchen to chow down on some Chinese takeout. As the family makes small talk, Toby (Chris Sullivan) offers to pay Kevin (Justin Hartley) for the food, something Toby says is a callback to their old dynamic. In all seriousness though, Toby appreciates being included on the big occasion.
Distracted, Randall (Sterling K. Brown) wanders on the perimeter, looking at photos of the family just as Philip (Chris Geere) arrives with Hailey and young Jack. But where is Kate (Chrissy Metz)? She’s coming in on a plane from London after traveling to widen her curriculum. Meanwhile, Deja notices Randall playing with Jenga blocks and he mentions how it’s a waiting game and wonders if he’s doing it right? She tells her dad that there are no rules, and takes the opportunity to tell him that she’s pregnant forcing him to keep his reactions contained.
It’s clear that the pregnancy is a surprise as she worries about the fact that she and her boyfriend aren’t even married yet. As the food-eating winds down, the nurse bursts everyone’s bubble to inform them that they should start saying their goodbyes. Uncle Nicky (Griffin Dunne) is the first to ask if they should draw straws, but Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) is quick to volunteer as Rebecca’s first visitor.
Sitting by Rebecca’s bedside, Beth talks about the challenges of motherhood and how you never really know what you’re doing, but oftentimes, she was doing her best impression of Rebecca because she was one heck of a mother. Meanwhile, out in the living area, Kevin and Randall chat with Kate over FaceTime and she regrets having taken a trip abroad for work, but her brothers reassure that their mother wouldn’t want it any other way.
They promise to tell Rebecca that she’s on her way, but Kevin and Randall warn Kate that there’s a chance their mother could be gone before morning. When Beth returns to the living room, Randall asks what she said and Beth refuses to share, just saying that she hopes Rebecca is at peace soon. Randall wrestles with what he wants to say, hoping he can let her know that it’s okay to leave, but doing so in a way that won’t scare Rebecca.
In retaliation for Beth not sharing what she said to Rebecca, Randall teases that he has a secret, but he’s a little premature in gloating. It turns out that Beth figured out Deja was pregnant a while ago, noting that she has a mother’s intuition about these things. As the night carries on, Kevin pulls out a box of Rebecca’s old records and puts on a Joni Mitchell disc, as the whole Pearson family reminisces on memories of the past.
As the living room serves as a celebratory area, Rebecca receives more visitors in her room including Toby who thanks her for always believing in him, even when things didn’t turn out how they thought they would. He also jokes that she loved him more than Philip. Out in the living room, Deja texts her boyfriend to tell him that she’s pregnant, sharing the news that up until now she’d been withholding.
Next up to visit Rebecca is Annie who thanks her grandmother for teaching her that it’s okay to be quiet as long as she isn’t afraid to be loud. As the evening begins to wind down, one by one the family begins turning in for bed until it’s just Kevin and Randall still awake. Together, the brothers walk into Rebecca’s room and they reassure her that Kate’s on the way. Making small talk, the brothers discuss Pilgrim Rick, a snow globe from their past, and Kevin’s splatter painting that still hangs on the wall.
In another room, Deja’s boyfriend arrives and wakes her, saying the nurse let him in. It turns out that she and Malik made it after all as he says he left the restaurant as soon as he read her text. He tells her he’s loved her since they were sixteen and shares that he’s thrilled she’s pregnant and he looks forward to getting married.
The next morning, the nurse tells Randall and Kevin that their mother is a fighter as she made it through the night. Standing by Rebecca’s bedside they watch the kids play outside just as Kate comes running into the room. She tells her mom, “its’ me, bug.” Together, they say their final “I love yous” to Rebecca as she breathes her last breath. Rebecca tells her to say hey for them, suggesting that she’ll be reunited with Jack (Milo Ventimiglia).
All Aboard Rebecca’s Final Train Ride
While Rebecca’s in a faraway state to her family, she envisions her final hours as a train ride where she begins the journey sitting and waiting while looking out the window. When someone approaches her, she mentions how her dad always wanted to take her on a train like this one. Looking up then, she comes face to face with William (Ron Cephas Jones) who sits down next to her.
When she asks about the poem that she used as inspiration for Randall’s name, Rebecca asks William to recite it. Getting up, William asks Rebecca to accompany him to the bar car, but she insists that she’s still waiting for someone. He promises her that she can still wait, but that she needs to follow him.
As they walk down the cars, Rebecca passes a younger version of herself sitting opposite of her father like the occasions when they rode trains together in her youth. When Rebecca hears Beth’s voice over the intercom, she looks to find that Beth in her teen years and adult life is sitting there as well sharing the words viewers saw in the real-world setting, but William insists that the train is moving fast now and they need to keep pace.
Continuing on, Rebecca sees another younger version of herself looking at a painting before peering to the other side of the bar car to find Dr. K (Gerald McRaney) behind the counter. Little moments surround the warm and familiar face like The Terrible Towel Rebecca gave Jack for his birthday that she went into labor along with his makeshift cupcake. A Steelers game plays on the TV in the background and Rebecca spies a mug with Jack’s face on it above the cabinets in the bar.
Looking at a bowl of lemons on the counter, Dr. K offers to make her a limoncello, but Rebecca requests a vesper, a cocktail her dad used to enjoy. Taking a moment to look around them, Dr. K tells Rebecca her kids grew up well, pointing to tables with Randall and Kevin at all three stages of their lives. She points out that Kate isn’t there though.
Rebecca admits that she’s spent so much time worrying about them, but Dr. K says she has to trust the process now. Reflecting, she mentions that she made so many mistakes, but he points out that no parent is perfect. Dr. K then makes a shocking reveal, saying that he thought he might lose Rebecca the day she came into the delivery room all those years ago. He then points out that she had the will to survive, even if she ended up losing a baby and eventually Jack.
Dr. K tells her to look at the life she made for herself, adding, “you’re as tough as they come Rebecca Pearson.” Before turning to walk away, she says how he was a great doctor, even if he was only her doctor for a brief time. Taking William’s arm, she continues walking through the train cars, passing Annie (Faithe Herman) and then Kevin and Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge) at various ages.
She passes an adult Randall doing push-ups with a young Randall on his back, while an older Kevin looks over baseball cards with his younger self. When William comes to a stop, Rebecca finds the current car holds Miguel (Jon Huertas) who remarks that she’s still the same, one of his favorite people. Their reunion is brief as Rebecca’s journey towards the caboose car continues. But Rebecca is determined to wait for Kate. When William opens the door to the car, there’s a bed and beside it, a young Kate sits with a smile o her face.
“This is quite sad,” Rebecca says, turning to Randall, acknowledging that the end is here. He tells her if it’s sad, it means that it was a great thing while it was happening. William tells her that everything ends, but if you take a step back to look at the whole picture, she can see how it’s the beginning of a beautiful new thing, kind of like Kevin’s splatter painting. Bidding each other adieu, William lets the door close behind him as Rebecca turns to the bed. Sitting down, she lays back and rolls over to find Jack laying beside her staring deep into her eyes. She’s reached what she deems to be heaven.
The Framing Story
The episode is framed by the story of a young man named Marcus Brooks. His story begins during a car ride with his parents and siblings but when a minor backseat scuffle turns into a major distraction, they end up in a roll-over accident. At the hospital, the whole family is okay, except for young son Marcus who is touch-and-go in the operating room as blood flow to his foot decreases.
Taking a moment to breathe, Marcus’ father (played by Dulé Hill) goes to find coffee where he bumps into a sooty Jack. They get to talking and Jack brings up how his house burned down earlier that night, he then asks the man how he’s doing. The man admits it’s the worst night of his life as his son is currently in surgery.
Jack tries comforting the man, saying that he was in a tough position roughly eighteen years ago when a man gave him solid advice. Jack then imparts the wisdom of “if you can take the sourest lemon that life has to offer, and turned it into something resembling lemonade,” then you’ll do okay. It’s at this moment that Marcus begins coding on the operating table.
Thankfully the staff manages to keep his heart going, but it’s only moments later that Jack’s fatal heart attack claims his life. The doctor is shocked as he can’t understand how Jack had been okay moments prior, while the little boy in the OR was hanging by a thread. It may not make sense, but it conveys the sense of everything happens for a reason.
As Marcus’ story jumps to the future, we see him working in a lab looking for what appears to be cancer cures. Sadly, the lab he’s working in is shut down due to under-funding, but a meal with his brother and sister cheers him. They encourage him and say that this won’t be his last opportunity to make a difference, offering up those words about lemons that their father shared with them.
It turns out that Dr. K’s motto, shared by Jack with their father eventually became their family motto too. And it turns out that Marcus goes on to make a breakthrough in Alzheimer’s research, a cause near and dear to the Pearsons. If Marcus didn’t make it, would Rebecca have managed to hold on as long as she did with her Alzheimer’s diagnosis? We’ll never know, but it goes to show, that you can never see the full picture until you take a step back.
See how the Pearson family’s story comes to an end when the series finale of This Is Us airs next week on NBC. Stock up on tissues, we have a feeling you’re going to need them.
This Is Us, Series Finale, Tuesday, May 24, 9/8c, NBC